March 16, 2011

Sustainability Efforts Do Not Affect Statler Guests, Professors Find

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Hotel guests do not find themselves inconvenienced by environmental conservation efforts, a Cornell Center for Hospitality Research study revealed last week.   Prof. Rohit Verma, operations management and executive director of CHR, and Prof. Alex Susskind, food and beverage management, conducted the study between August and December 2010. Two years ago, Philips, the electronics company, approached Verma and Susskind about conducting an experiment to test people’s reactions to energy-saving technology. From there, Verma and Susskind brought the idea to The Statler to determine how guests react to energy-saving technology — such as LED light —  and whether such initiatives detract from the guest experience, according to Verma.In the experiment, the professors used eight rooms in The Statler Hotel as a testing ground. The rooms featured either compact fluorescent lights or LED bulbs. In addition, they each had an LCD television, which could be set to the standard setting or three energy-saving settings — low, medium and high. The professors arranged the study so that each of the four settings were being tested in two rooms.  192 guests unknowingly became participants when they filled out a survey evaluating their stay at The Statler. Among various questions about their stay, the survey asked guests to evaluate the quality of lighting and television, Verma said.“The biggest thing that we found was that the customers perceived the quality of new sustainable technology to be equally attractive as the more traditional technology, which consumes more energy,” Verma said.A hotel would save approximately $6,000 a year by programming televisions with the most energy-efficient settings, according to the study. Richard Adie ’75, general manager of The Statler, said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the study results regarding television — especially the amount of money that they suggest hotels will save. The Statler has already started making plans to replace TVs with energy-saving ones, he added.  Susskind considers LCD TVs to be reasonably priced, saying that they are not significantly more  expensive than non-energy-saving TV sets.Although Adie also expressed interest in changing the CFL light bulbs that are currently in use at The Statler to LED bulbs, he said the price of the bulbs poses a problem. “The challenge that I have right now is that the bulbs are expensive,” Adie said. “They are about $27 each. That’s about $100 per room, which is a pretty big investment.” Although LED lighting is initially more expensive, it has a longer life than the CFL bulbs and will therefore reduce hotel costs in the long-term, according to Susskind.  Looking to the future, Adie said The Statler will be taking a methodological approach to the switch from CFL to LED bulbs; As the current CFL bulbs die out, LED bulbs will replace them. “Secondly, we found some indication that people may be willing to pay more if we can prove to them that we are taking our own positive actions to our system,” Verma said.45 percent of the participants in the survey indicated that they would pay more to stay at a hotel that practiced conservation. Furthermore, 30 percent said they would specifically seek out hotels with sustainability initiatives, according the study.    “If they can make these conservation moves — and it doesn’t affect the guests’ experience — it’s a win for everybody,” said Jim Prevor, a guest at The Statler last weekend. Although the study shows that 30 percent of participants look favorably upon hotels with sustainability efforts, Adie remains hesitant about making such changes. “I think that everyone that travels is price sensitive no matter what price range they’re in. I don’t think we’re at the point where people are willing to pay a premium to stay in a room that’s sustainable,” Adie said. He expressed doubts that guests would be willing to pay a sustainability premium for a commercial hotel.  “I think it’s a different thing if you’re developing a resort in Costa Rica that is focused on every aspect of the stay being eco-friendly,” Adie said.Prevor echoed Adie’s sentiments.  “I’d like to say that I would choose a hotel based on their conservation efforts, but in most cases the practicality of the situation dictates the situation,” Prevor said. CHR is planning a broader follow-up study for the summer of 2011, Verma said.

Original Author: Jesella Zambrano